There are many ways to use Mother Nature to show you where to fish. One very important one is to allow water birds to show you where baitfish are congregated and therefore where to target the species of the day. This week’s column will discuss the interconnectivity between The Great Salt Lake and the trout and bass reservoirs throughout Utah.
Over 10 million water birds use the Great Salt Lake ecosystem as a feeding stopover on their migration routes each year. Just a few of those species are three types of grebes, cormorants, great blue herons, loons and several types of gulls. In fact, one species of grebes (eared grebes) spends a couple of months in the fall molting and stuffing themselves with brine shrimp. When they molt, they cannot fly so being in a forage-rich environment makes for a wonderful place to temporarily lose the ability to fly.
Such a dynamic resting and feeding area has spillover benefits for anglers all over the state. The distribution of each of the species mentioned above is very broad throughout the state so each and every reservoir I visit, one of the first orders of business is to locate the water birds which will indicate where minnows and baitfish reside.
A perfect example is chasing stripers at Lake Powell. Each time I pull into a bay or cove, the first thing I look for are active grebes. Western and Clark’s grebes form “swimming flocks” and target shad, blue gills and sunfish in water from 150 feet deep to two feet. If you can see grebes diving and surfacing with minnows in their mouths, try to see how long they are, then use a similar size and color of spoon or crankbait to locate and target the striper schools that chase and manage schools of baitfish.
I can’t tell you the number of times active grebes, gulls, great blue herons or even loons have directed me to the next striper boil or even schools of stripers resting in the backs of cuts and coves.
On Strawberry Reservoir, a smaller, less obvious type of grebe tells a different story. Eared grebes show up (as I fish) in the early fall just before or immediately after the lake turns over (when the water cools and the bottom of the water column trades places with the top part of the column). Eared grebes feed on plankton including daphnia, one of the main food sources of kokanee salmon. So, when I notice eared grebes in the area, I understand that more gamefish, kokanees, rainbows and my main target (cutthroat trout) will follow chubs, shiners and small trout into the shallows as they too feast on the daphnia that show up very near the surface.
There are times in the fall that many coves have active gulls, grebes and loons while great blue herons quietly and patiently wait along the shoreline for minnows to swim by.
I won a state championship a couple of years ago after watching hundreds of grebes and cormorants trap large schools of shad in a relatively small, open bay in Clear Lake, California. Seeing the water birds in the same general area for almost a week of practice gave confidence the bass I sought were still in the area waiting for my lures.
After reading about eared grebes and how up to three million of them molt in the Great Salt Lake, I remembered seeing them at Strawberry in the late fall. There, they looked like late hatchings because they scurried away from the boat and couldn’t fly. Now, I understand those smaller grebes were molting and feeding while waiting for their new feathers so they could continue their migration.
When you go to your favorite reservoir this year and wonder where to fish, remember to be observant, watch for and ultimately, follow the birds.
Thanks to my good friend, Bob Allen, of Salem for his vast knowledge of brine shrimp and daphnia, a tiny portion of which he shared with me before writing this column.